Each Week, Head of Content Michael Schottey makes his picks for the upcoming slate of NFL action. For more on the best picks of the week, check out Pickwatch Pro for only $30 per year and get access to in-depth insights on proven winners.
Picks are straight up. Odds are provided for informational purposes and courtesy of our friends at BetMGM.
Atlanta Falcons @ Buffalo Bills (-14.5)
The Falcons are, inexplicably, the only team in the NFL to not give up a single play over 40 yards this season. That’s not to say teams don’t move the ball. They’re also the fifth-worst scoring defense, giving up 26.7 points per game. They’re matching up with one of the most explosive NFL offenses in Buffalo with Bills quarterback Josh Allen tied for fifth in the league with 4.7 air yards per passing attempt.
The Falcons are also the single worst team at pressuring the quarterback with only 16.5% of opponent drop backs resulting in a hurry, knockdown or sack. The best team in the NFL at that metric? The Bills. Pick: Buffalo
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears (-6)
I’ve noted before how both of these teams are two of my least favorite teams to watch and break down. The Bears, notably, have gotten a tick better in that regard because they appear to be playing things a little less close to the vest now that everyone is coaching and playing for their jobs—the feast and famine nature of QB Justin Fields helps as well. The Giants? They’ve just gotten worse with the absence of QB Daniel Jones.
Expect this game to be sloppy with a Bears team that is coming in tied for the second worst in the league in turnover differential (-13). The Giants, meanwhile, give the ball away almost as often. I’ll take the home team with the better player under center. Pick: Bears
Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati offense has some flash to it with maybe slightly less substance that the average fan might think. They’re seventh in the NFL with 27.3 PPG scored and QB Joe Burrow leads the league at 8.7 yards per attempt. Their offensive achilles heel, however, is a paltry 4.0 rushing yards per attempt as a team (tied for 25th in the league) as well as a 11 percent of all offensive drives ending in a turnover, which is just outside the Top 10, but definitely something holding their offense back from being truly elite.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are known as an elite offense (and are, ranking fifth in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA ranking), but their defense is also starting to climb toward the top of a lot of various metrics. The Bengals will have tough sledding against the No. 1 team in the league with only 68 missed tackles. Pick: Chiefs
Miami Dolphins @ Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
The Dolphins’ enter Week 17 as an improbable 7th seed, winners of their last seven games after losing the seven before it. The Titans are headed in the other direction, however, having lost three of their last five (although coming off of a gutty home win against the San Francisco 49ers).
The teams stack up nicely. Miami’s dink-and-dunk offense is ranked 25th in offensive DVOA. The Titans’ own Derrick Henry-less dink-and-dunk offense is ranked 24th. Defensively, Miami is 12th to Tennessee’s 13th.
I expect the difference here to be a little homefield advantage and a little COVID-related luck. I’m going to tentatively pick the Titans here with an offensive line looking to come off the list, however that will likely change if offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (and others on that line) are unable to play against a Dolphins team which has blitzed opponents 230 times this season—second most in the NFL. Pick: Titans
Las Vegas Raiders @ Indianapolis Colts (-7.5)
After league leaks targeted former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden earlier in the season, Raiders fans (and their owner, Mark Davis) have already been suspicious that the league “has it out for them.” Now, what Gruden had said was wrong, full stop, but the Raiders faithful aren’t going to be any less salty with COVID looming large over this game and the NFL now changing their league-wide COVID protocols which might allow the Colts to come back full strength.
Listen, the Colts just beat the Arizona Cardinals without most of their offensive line. Yes, losing unvaccinated QB Carson Wentz would’ve been a tough hill to climb (and, it still might be depending on what the NFL’s new protocols look like along with his testing status), but the Colts’ fifth-ranked scoring offense has a lot more to do with the rushing attack, and that’ll win the day here. Pick: Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots (-15.5)
This one is pretty simple. The Patriots are one of the best teams in the league and are playing for playoff positioning while the Jaguars are currently more worried about a coaching search. 15.8 percent of all Jaguars offensive drives end in a turnover. That’s the second-worst mark in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense is third best in the league at creating turnovers, with 17.1 percent of all their opponents’ drives ending in a turnover. Look for Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson to have a bit of a field day here. Pick: Patriots
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-7)
The Saints continue to be ravaged by COVID, and whoever starts at QB in Week 17 will have to play better than rookie Ian Book did against the Dolphins on Monday Night. Because of the short week, the Saints may not be getting as many people back as they might like, but it might not matter. The Panthers have devolved into one of the worst teams in the league, losing their last five games and are among the NFL leaders in offensive turnovers with 25. The Saints defense should feast. Pick: Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-13.5) @ New York Jets
There’s a lot to question about the Buccaneers. RB Leonard Fournette and linebacker Lavonte David are both out for the regular season with WR Chris Godwin done for even longer. WR Mike Evans’ status is in doubt as of this writing of this article due to COVID and a number of other, “lesser” names are up in the air as well.
What was once a “super team,” has been brought low really really quickly. Yet, that won’t matter against the Jets, who are (according to Vegas) still about two touchdowns worse than what’s left of the Bucs. Watch for Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to apply pressure early, often and in varied ways. No one blitzes more in the NFL. I noted above that the Dolphins were No. 2 at 230 blitzes, the Buccaneers have blitzed 276 times this season. Pick: Buccaneers
Philadelphia Eagles (-4) @ Washington Football Team
All season, it’s been a wild ride watching the once-vaunted Washington Football Team defense defy all expectations and be one of the worst defenses in the league. The flip side of that this week is that no one has any real expectations for the Eagles offense and it’s quietly become one of the league’s best and most efficient units. The Eagles are the ninth-best scoring offense in the NFL (WFT is ninth-worst) and they rank No. 7 in offensive DVOA.
How are they doing it? They have one of the top pass protection units according to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin’s rating system which combines offensive line grading from ESPN and Pro Football Focus. They also rank highly in pass rush as well, which doesn’t bode well for WFT either. Pick: Eagles
Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers (-5.5)
The Chargers are coming off of a surprising upset loss to the Houston Texans which was essentially a battle of who could handle their COVID losses better. Literally none of the experts we tracked here at Pickwatch thought it would be the Texans, but here we are, watching the Chargers lose even more important personnel to the COVID list, including CB Chris Harris Jr. and S Nasir Adderly (among others). They are notably getting RB Austin Ekeler back.
A lot depends on how the COVID list shakes out, but for now, I’m taking the road upset and the Broncos who are now tied with the Patriots for the NFL lead in scoring defense at17.3 PPG. Pick: Broncos
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers (-12)
The other piece of the Chargers/Texans surprise game was Houston which benefited from a career game from RB Rex Burkhead who has been around the NFL so long that there are probably a good number of fans who didn’t realize he was still in the league as well as a good chunk who have never heard of him in the first place. He ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns, reminding the league just who he is.
On the other side of things, the home team here is the much better team overall and is one of the most vertical offensives in the NFL at 8.3 adjusted yards per attempt. They’re coming off of a loss of their own, and aren’t going to make some of the same mistakes Los Angeles did in looking past the Texans. Pick: 49ers
Arizona Cardinals @ Dallas Cowboys (-5.5)
At first glance, this is two teams heading in completely opposite directions. The Cowboys are the hottest team in football (as I said in my recent notebook) while the Cardinals have lost three straight (and one of those was to the Detroit Lions).
On our recent Three & Out Live Show, I noted that this game is really the last of the Cowboys’ big pre-playoff tests. The Cowboys are a fantastic overall team and we’ve seen them win close games, blowout lesser opponents, avoid knockoffs and more.
As they round the final turn into the postseason, they face a team in Arizona that is just as good defensively—Arizona is fifth in defensive DVOA with Dallas third—and is not going to play into Dallas’ hands in terms of turning the ball over. The Cardinals are fourth-best in the NFL with only 14 offensive turnovers, which means the Dallas defense will either have to create those turnovers against the statistical grain or win the game by stopping a very potent offense from moving the ball. I think they succeed. Pick: Cowboys
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)
Last week the Seahawks had a -6.5 line against a team at the bottom of the NFC North, and I told you all that the line was disrespectful and even though I was picking the Seahawks to win, I saw it closer to a field goal game in a low-scoring affair. The Seahawks ended up losing the Bears on a last-second play.
This week, the Seahawks have a -6.4 line against a team at the bottom of the NFC North, and I’m telling you all that this line is disrespectful and the Lions (who are 9-6 against the spread this season) will probably keep this closer to a field goal game. The Lions have looked better in recent weeks and are getting QB Jared Goff back. Defensively, they’ve been getting after the QB more and more and the Seahawks have the second-worst offensive sack rate in the NFL with 9.1 percent of all Seahawks dropbacks resulting in their QB being sacked. I’m taking the Seahawks here, but don’t be surprised when it’s close. Pick: Seahawks
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) @ Baltimore Ravens
Here’s how good the Rams are right now, according to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin’s rating system mentioned above (which takes into account PFF and ESPN analysis), the Rams have the best Pass Protection, Pass Rush AND Run Defense. They’re also pretty darn good at run blocking and are potentially getting left tackle Andrew Whitworth back this week to an already potent offense.
I’m still overall bullish on the Ravens from a longterm perspective and it’s tough to write them off in most matchups because there is still a lot of talent on that team, but the defense is just horrendous thanks to both injuries and COVID. Earlier in the article, I noted how the Falcons haven’t given up a single play over 40 yards this season. The Ravens have given up 18—the most in the NFL by a significant margin. Against this Rams offense? Yikes. Pick: Rams
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers (-6.5)
These teams are more closely matched than their records suggest—evidenced by the Vikings 34-31 home win just a month ago. The Vikings are going to look to keep this game close with their rushing attack, which may see RB Dalvin Cook return to the lineup. The Packers have the worst per-carry run defense in the NFL, giving up an average of 4.8 yards every time their opponents hand off the ball.
Still, as I’ve said multiple times in recent articles, the Packers are tough to beat in the months of December and January—especially at home. The difference in this one (besides the Lambeau mystique) is going to be solid coaching and quality football. The Packers lead the NFL in Turnover Differential (+16) and are the second-least penalized team in football (68). They come out on top in a close one. Pick: Packers
Cleveland Browns (-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers
This game should be as close as the line indicates, but remember, home field advantage usually equates to around 2.5 points, so Vegas sees this as a five or six-point Browns win, which it absolutely should be.
Cleveland is right around the NFL average team. If your expectations for the Browns were high, you’re likely disappointed in their mediocre season. If your expectations were low, the Browns’ eight or nine wins will be seen as a drop from last season but, you know, still a Top 5 season since the 1990s.
The Steelers, however, are less than mediocre. Their offensive DVOA (22nd) is markedly lower than the Browns (12th) and the defensive side of things is closer, but only just. The Browns, too, are getting a bunch of players back from the COVID list, as DE Jadeveon Clowney, OT Jedrick Wills and RB Kareem Hunt come back into the fold. Pick: Browns